Prior to learning Portuguese, I anticipated that it would most likely be relatively easy to pick up given that I am a Native Spanish speaker. The truth is, my Spanish has indeed contributed to my Portuguese skills, making me feel comfortable in settings in which Portuguese is used exclusively. For example, at work I have had to give presentations to colleagues and have written several Power Points in Portuguese only.
However, I had no idea that I would also encounter a phenomenon that makes Portuguese so particularly interesting and much harder to understand- everyday phrases!
What do I mean by everyday phrases? These consist of expressions that constitute the cultural fabric of a language. During our Portuguese classes with our distinguished Professor, Gabriela, we became intrigued by the diversity of phrases used in Brazil. In some occasions it became easier to understand what the expressions meant because of my Spanish accent- for instance, “dar uma mãozinha” could translate exactly to Spanish “dar una mano” which means to help out someone. Another expression also resembled a phrase in Costa Rican Spanish: “caiu a ficha” which for my people would translate to “le cayó la peseta.” The literal meaning is that the chip fell, but for us it means that someone realized something.
However, other than these two phrases, I found myself taken aback and often confused regarding every other expressions. For instance, who would have known that “lavar roupa suja” or clean dirty clothes could also mean to recall bad things from the past! Or who would have imagined that “fazer tempestade em copo d’água” or make a tempest in a cup of water could also mean to exaggerate!
It became clear that perhaps it was important to learn these expressions, just to avoid people insulting you without your knowledge. For instance, if someone calls you “amigo da onça” or literally speaking, jaguar’s friend, it doesn’t mean you are acquainted with a feline, but rather that you are an untrustworthy friend. And if someone says you are a “cão chupando manga,” or a dog eating mango, they are making zero reference to a fruit or the animal but rather to the fact that you are ugly. How about “mão de vaca”? It does not mean that you have cow’s hands. It means you are cheap. And lastly, “cara de pau.” The expression does not make reference to the negative connotation “pau” referring to a phallic symbolic, nor does it mean wood face. It is similar to what in Spanish we would call “descarado,” or someone who is shameless in a negative sense.
Furthermore, I was impressed at the amount of ways to express that someone messed up- “dar mancada” and “vacilar” are just two examples. Another one, “pisar na bola” which literally translates to step on the ball, also refers to messing up. And the list goes on. I made this observation with a Brazilian person, highlighting that there were many phrases and words for the same connotation. He said it was necessary to have many ways of expressing the action of messing up because Brazilians are always messing up.
I am fully aware of the fact that this is not even half of the phrases used, and I know I will never all of them. I still wonder who had the creativity of making up these everyday expressions. I also wonder how these became known to certain Brazilian groups, becoming part of the culture. However, as I continue my adventures in Brazil, I hope to learn more phrases, as they constitute an important part of the culture and everyday language of the Brazilian people.